20 Books That Have Shaped Me

I love books. I love buying books. I love reading books. I know books aren’t for everyone, but they have had a profound impact on my life. In this post, I want to share with you 20 books that have significantly impacted me.

The Rules

  1. I’m going to stretch this a bit. I can’t keep it to just 20. So, I’ll cut some corners.
  2. I’m going to attempt not to use an author more than once.
  3. I don’t endorse everything taught by every author.
  4. I’m only including books I read three years ago or earlier. I’ve read lots of good books in the last three years, but at this point, I’m not counting them on my long-range impact.
  5. The books are listed chronologically instead of impact-rated; they aren’t in order by “most significant.”

The Books

In the words of the great theologian, Ace Ventura, “Alrighty then.” Now let’s get going:

1. The Bible — I don’t say this to be cute. But the Bible is the number 1 book that has impacted my life. The first Bible I remember reading was when I was 10. I can’t remember the translation, some children’s version? In 2001, I bought an NLT Bible at a youth church camp; I was 15. I cherish the notes and markings in it. I was a KJV-preferred guy for a bit from 2005 to 2008. When I was ordained in 2007, my church got me the Thompson Chain Reference Bible. In 2008, I went with the ESV Study Bible and I haven’t really looked back from ESV, but I enjoy a variety of translations. God’s Word is so good. Such a delight and joy.

2. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem — I began reading this in 2008. I’m not arguing it is the best systematic theology out there, but it is very accessible. As the first systematic theology I interacted with, it sharpened my thinking and deepened my faith.

3. Pilgrim’s Progress (2008, 2014, 2019) — I love this allegory. I appreciate Dr. Whitney for forcing us to read it in his Spiritual Disciplines class at SBTS. Each time I’ve read it, I’ve discovered new things and have been encouraged in the faith.

4. 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (2010) — This book as well as other books by 9Marks on the local church like PolityDeliberate Church, What is a Healthy Church, etc. began to clarify my understanding of the beauty, nature, and purpose of the local church.

5. Three Gospel Books — Told you I would cut corners! From 2010 to 2012, I read What is the Gospel? by Gregg Gilbert, The World Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips, and Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler. These books helped me to rejoice in the gospel and to sharpen my focus when preaching and explaining the gospel to others.

6. Radical by David Platt (2011) — Again, I’m not saying I necessarily endorse everything David Platt teaches or everything in this book. However, it did have a profound impact on my thinking through missions, sacrifice, and getting the gospel to the nations.

7. Two books from John Snyder — In 2011 John Snyder from Christ Church in New Albany, MS gifted me with The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock and Salvation in Full Color edited by Richard Owen Roberts. These books helped me to think more clearly about God and the various aspects of salvation. I’ll throw in Jim Elliff’s pamphlet on Revival and the Unregenerate Church Member in here as well.

8. The Attributes of God (Pink and Tozer, 2011) — This is technically three books. The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink and The Attributes of God, Vols. 1 and 2 by A.W. Tozer. These books helped me to think about the greatness of God by studying His attributes. As a bonus, I’ll also add Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy here.

9. The Religious Affections (2011, 2019) — Jonathan Edwards’ work on the affections is powerful. It’s not the easiest read, but it is rewarding to those who can make it through. Dealing with true and false conversions of the Great Awakening, Edwards carefully walks through signs and non-signs that would indicate whether a person is a true Christian.

10. Holiness by J.C. Ryle (2011, 2013, 2018) — This is one of the best books on sanctification out there. Granted, it can be piercing at times to the weaker conscience, but it is a needed work even in our day. I find it simultaneously convicting and encouraging.

11. The Holiness of God (2012) — R.C. Sproul’s work is the “classic” on understanding God’s holiness. I read it through with a brother as we met on Fridays in Conway, Arkansas for breakfast. I’ve looked back through it much over the years.

12. The Pleasures of God by John Piper (2012) — I think this has been the most impactful Piper book for me. There are several others of his that I could list, but this work on thinking through God’s delight in His own glory helped me in my worship, preaching, and even in my being a better husband, father, and pastor.

13. Gospel Deeps by Jared Wilson (2012) — 2012 was a tough year for me personally, and this book came at the right time. To be reminded of the multifaceted dimensions of the gospel and the wonders of Christ was needed nourishment for my weary soul.

14. Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur (2012) — Like Piper, I could list several of MacArthur’s books that have been helpful, but this book strengthened my resolve for doing away with gimmickry in the church, being clear on the gospel, and being committed to preaching the Scriptures. MacArthur, Sproul, and Piper have been profoundly impactful for my loving God rightly, loving the church passionately, and submitting to and trusting the Scriptures faithfully.

15. Puritan Books — I’ll just name two: The Glory of Christ by John Owen and The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson. I think I’ve read both of these twice around 2013 and then again more recently. Owen’s book is a feast on the riches of Christ and Watson is a masterful wordsmith as he shows what is true repentance and what is counterfeit.

16. Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis (2014) — I thought I would throw a fiction book in here. I think reading fiction has been a help to my imagination, and that has perhaps been a big help to my preaching and writing ministry. This particular book isn’t the best fiction book ever, but it does show forth a man who is a false convert making a name for himself in the preaching ministry. He’s a fornicator, a liar, and after his own glory instead of that Christ’s. Periodically, I think of the fictitious Gantry as I see others fall or desire to guard my own life from bringing reproach on Christ.

17. George Whitefield biographies (2014) — I wanted to make a plug for biographies in this list. There are many more I could have listed but I ended up reading three biographies on Whitefield in 2014 (Dallimore, Kidd, and Lawson) and so I thought he should make the list. I don’t agree with everything about Whitefield’s life, but his passion for preaching and his love for souls greatly encouraged me in both of these areas.

18. Spurgeon’s sermons and Calvin’s commentaries — It’s hard for me to put a date on these. Chronologically, these probably should be listed a bit higher. I’ve never read all the way through Calvin’s Institutes, but I’ve benefitted from what I have read. Spurgeon’s sermons are not only a great joy to read but also have a sermonic impact even two centuries later. Calvin is a masterful commentator. Most of the time, he gets right to the point, and he has been helpful over the years in my preaching ministry.

19. The Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (2015) — This is a collection of sermons by Martyn Lloyd-Jones that I read as I was preaching through the Sermon on the Mount at Immanuel Baptist in Clinton, Arkansas. This is probably one of the reasons it took me 40+ weeks to finish!

20: Two books with the word Kingdom (I know, total stretch!) — In 2015 I read Jeff Johnson’s book The Kingdom of God. This really helped me to think through the right way to interpret the cohesion of the Old and New Testaments. I knew I wasn’t presbyterian, and I knew I wasn’t dispensationalist, and Johnson’s book helped me navigate what I think is the biblical position on covenant theology. The second book I’ll mention here is Sam Storms’ Kingdom Come. I read that book in 2012 but couldn’t find a place to list it above! This book helped solidify my amillennial eschatological position.


Well, there you go. I am sort of saddened by so many of the books I left out! But I think these 20-ish give a decent representation of the books God has used in my life to shape me into who I am today. I’ll give a final plug here for you to be a reader! Who knows how the Lord might profoundly impact your life if you were to take up and read a little more?

Above all, be a Bible reader. After that, watch a little less Netflix and read. 😉


2 thoughts on “20 Books That Have Shaped Me”

  1. Thank you for sharing the books that you stated had a great impact on you.

    I agree with your number one pick being the Bible. I have been moving through the Bible book by book, chapter by chapter, and verse by verse now for many years – literally every single day without fail, and in no uncertain terms I do concur with you!

    My number two pick is unchallenged, and it being a book I feel every genuine Christian should read! Moreover, every Church member – generally speaking many of which have never known the Lord Jesus Christ! The book is
    “The Gospel According To Jesus” by
    John MacArthur at http://www.gty.org

    Brother Rick Buffington
    NW GA


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